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DivX plug-in does Flash video better than Adobe

Add-on to Adobe's own add-on uses graphic processor and better software to play video with less CPU overhead.

Who says Flash video has to monopolize your laptop and drain its battery at scary rate? Aside from Steve Jobs, that is?

Divx, the video technology company whose software is in dozens of Blu-ray players and other devices, is releasing today a browser plug-in, DivX HiQ, that replaces the video engine in Adobe's own Flash player with what they say is its own, lighter, faster, better, stronger player. The pitch: now you can get a good video experience even on your underpowered old computer, or your Netbook.

Once installed -- it comes as part of the DivX Plus Web Player, available on -- when you hit a video on a site that the player knows about, like YouTube, you get a second "play" button under the usual player. I tested the beta of HiQ on a few systems--a worn-out old ThinkPad, a 2-year-old MacBook, and a screaming fast desktop--and found the biggest gain on the ThinkPad. Videos played more smoothly, especially when I selected high-definition streams (720p or 1080p). I was able to play all videos in full-screen mode, too, something I haven't attempted on this PC for a while.

I didn't notice much of a performance difference on my MacBook or my desktop PC.

The DivX HiQ add-on gives you a supplementary Play button on selected sites. YouTube shown. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

DivX rep Ryan Taylor told me that his company's video decoding technology is just better, which means devices running it can do more video with less horsepower, leading to better-looking movies, better battery life, and cooler laps. The HiQ product can also use the graphics processor of the computer it's running on, to put the video decoding on the chip best designed to do it.

Adobe, though, is currently beta-testing its own Flash Player 10.2, which also uses the graphical processing unit. Why Adobe is still, in 2010, in beta on GPU-accelerated video decoding is an open question; this feature should have been baked into the player at least a year ago.

DivX's little freebie add-on is a bit of a marketing play. The download will come with an optional codec pack and a converter tool. But mostly, as Taylor says, "it identifies and links our brand the highest-quality playback possible."

The company has not discussed this add-on with Adobe or with Apple. You can get DivX technology running on several tablet computers today, including the hot new Galaxy Tab. But it won't work as an end-run around Apple's Flash block for the iPhone or iPad. (It also won't work on sites that apply DRM to streams, like NetFlix or Hulu.)

If you want to watch full-screen videos on your Netbook today, the DivX HiQ player is a good bet. I'd recommend it over the Flash 10.2 beta, since it's released code, and since as an add-on to your already-installed Flash player it can easily be ignored if it doesn't work better. But once Adobe pushes the 10.2 update out of beta, DivX will have to rely on the attraction of the other parts of the download bundle to get people to even know about it.